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Hiring Lessons from the Front: What to look for in a Community Manager

Posted by Don Crow on Oct 16, 2014 9:00:00 AM

what to look for in a community managerSummer 2015 marked five years of blogging for Verge Pipe Media. During that time, I’ve worked with and hired a lot of interns and watched several of them turn an unpaid tenure into a paid gig monitoring, listening, responding, and creating content for our own, and client communities.

You see and hear a lot about how you should never turn community management over to an intern. I’ve actually said it myself on several occasions, and while the statement is largely true, it’s not always possible to have well trained, highly compensated community managers in control of the bridge. Startups, non-profits, and even certain larger businesses have to rely on unpaid interns to get and keep their social media profiles running. Unfortunately, we’ve seen well established clients rely on unpaid to low pay interns when they could have (and should have) committed more resources to the cause.

In almost all of those cases, the reasoning has gone something like this:

They’re young. They understand this stuff (social media) so much better than anyone here.
It’s great experience for them, and we can’t get HR onboard with hiring a full time employee right now.
We know we have to do more on social media, we just don’t have the money to pay someone to do it all.
Social Media? Just get yourself a college student to do it for the resume material.

And yet, every time I hear these (or something similar) I still cringe a little bit, even five years later.

First of all, yes, “young people” gravitate to social media and having come of age as many of these platforms started and evolved, they do understand it better than your older, more traditionally trained marketers and business managers. However, that doesn’t equate to knowing how to use those platforms to connect with customers and grow a business.

It is great experience for them, but only with proper coaching, mentoring, and on-boarding. And quite frankly, if HR is making business decisions that impact the future of your organization’s survival then you’ve already got one foot in the grave anyway.

Knowing you need help is great, knowing you need help with social media is wonderful, not knowing the value add of paying and developing a professional community manager is clearly a limiting factor.

And lastly, as self serving as it may sound, outsourcing your social media marketing and community management to an agency is always an option. If you’re going to roll the dice on an untrained college student just so you can check a box and they can use your brand on their resume, then hiring an agency is a not only an option, it’s the best option.

But let’s assume for the next several minutes that you are forward thinking and have the infrastructure in place to select, train, and retain a qualified community manager. Great! Now what?


what to look for in a community manager

For starters, you’ve got to have a clear idea of what you want your new hire to do on a day to day basis in terms of goals for your organization. Here at Verge Pipe Media, our partnership with Hubspot makes this a little easier because we can track and measure every post and then benchmark for things like site traffic, content downloads, email subscribes, and social shares. If you’re not measuring and benchmarking, you’re going to find it difficult to help coach your community manager on areas of professional growth, and then there’s the challenge of actually growing your business.

Some of the things I look for when interviewing and selecting community managers are:

  1. Attention to detail. So you’re going to turn over your brand to a young 20-something who is balancing student load debt, their first car payment, moving into a new city, and an engagement or marriage. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Being a stickler for details is a must have for the social media voice of your organization. They’re going to be utilizing smartphones, tablets, laptops, and more to manage your community, and if they don’t pay attention, that drunk tweet at 2 am on Saturday may go out from a company profile instead of a personal one.
  2. Writing good well matters. We ask for at least two or three writing samples from each candidate, in addition to a resume. Trust me, if they cannot write a 500 – 700 word article, there’s no way they’re going to produce intelligent Twitter length posts multiple times per day on multiple platforms. Writing great content in a consistent matter is important to the public visibility of your brand. If you think it’s not important, wait until the grammar police attack a post of yours and the trolls come out to play.
  3. A sense of humor. Believe it or not, the toughest part of community management is the daily putting yourself out there for the world to judge. You research, write, edit, edit some more, and produce content at least daily, if not hourly. And then you wait and see if you get the desired result. It can become demoralizing quickly if your fans don’t respond the way you want. The best community managers have a terrific sense of humor, and that means being able to laugh at themselves, and laugh off the near constant disappointment of content that doesn’t quite resonate as planned.
  4. Thinking strategically, not tactically. Stay with me on this one….I’m telling you it’s not as important to know what time to post, and on what days, and on what platforms, as it is to know why you’re posting in the first place. There are tools-a-plenty to help determine optimal posting times. The only tool that exists to help know why you’re posting and who you’re trying to influence is the one between the ears of your community manager. Make certain you’re hiring someone who is more concerned with where she is professionally in five years than what she’s wearing to the company tailgate party on Saturday.


what to look for in a community manager

Setting any employee up for success early should be a no-brainer for business managers. But are you prepared to train a community manager for success so you don’t have to wait 6+ months for them, ‘to get it?’

Here’s a brief list of what I think community managers need to be trained on to be up and running quickly:

  1. Company culture. Make absolutely certain the person assigned to connecting with your online community knows backwards and forwards what it is your organization stands for and why. Get them involved in as many meetings as possible, even those that may not directly influence their day to day role. Have them do a ride along with the sales team, send them to the facilities meetings, and by all means introduce them to clients, partners and providers.
  2. Analytics, publishing, and blogging tools. Here’s my second plug for Hubspot: we use their Inbound Certification classes and test as a barometer of how well a community manager will transition from using social media for personal to professional use.
  3. Customer personas. Publishing great content to the wrong audience is as bad as not publishing at all. In my third plug for Hubpot, we use their templates to develop our buyer personas and then the analytics tell us how effective we’re truly being at reaching our desired fans. You have your ideal customer and probably your current customer personas on-hand, right?


what to look for in a community manager

Being a community manager is hard work. It’s an often thankless job with vague guidelines, less coaching and development than other roles, and although you’re a part of a team, a big chunk of your days are spent alone with a laptop and smartphone.

If you’ve got great company culture, better than average tools, and solid goals for your community manager to work towards, you’re better off than 85% of the organizations out there.

But my number one piece of advice to those who sit atop the food chain of a community manager is this: let them breathe. Give them the goals, coach and train them on the environment, and then get the hell out of the way. For example, we didn’t panic when our very own community manager announced her engagement. Did we expect (and see) at least some of her attention diverted to planning a wedding and life with her fiancé? Yes. Did the quality of the work degrade? Nope. I’m not naïve enough to believe that 100% of her online time was spent on our community, but that’s the new reality of our always on, always connected workforce today. She certainly never protested when I would contact her after hours about content, and she would always jump online to quickly respond to a fan or follower question on a Sunday.

Let. Them. Breathe.

In conclusion, what to look for in a community manager is the person you’re going to trust your brand with who will also very likely be the only social media subject matter expert in the organization. That requires a lot of trust, which granted, must be earned, but you’ve got to have a plan to select, train, and retain this very important team member.

P.S. Potential employees, please send a thank you note and follow up consistently!

I hope this lesson in how to hire a community manager is helpful, and if you want to learn more about the ins and outs of being a community manager, sign up for VPM Academy below, and also take a look at the history of being a community manager.


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Topics: social media marketing, community manager, Social Media Strategy

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